Teen-agers still able to purchase tobacco in about 1 of 4 tests
Despite crackdowns on teen smoking, millions of American youngsters smoke - and with a little effort they can find plenty of stores to sell them the cigarettes they crave.
It's illegal to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone younger than 18. But undercover teens have been able to buy tobacco in Colorado Springs in about one of every four tries since the federal government began policing the ban, a Gazette analysis shows. That's right in line with the rate at which teens have been able to buy cigarettes and smokeless tobacco across the state and nationally.
For more than two years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has contracted with state agencies to hire teens to attempt to buy cigarettes and other forms of tobacco at thousands of outlets across the nation.
Each attempt is recorded, along with whether the store sold tobacco to the minor. In Colorado, the FDA has contracted with the state Department of Public Health and Environment to carry out the federal checks.
The Gazette analyzed the nearly 5,600 records amassed by the FDA in Colorado since the federal agency began checking compliance with the law. About 26 percent of the time, youths walked out with tobacco. That's not the same as saying 26 percent of Colorado merchants sell tobacco to teens. Frequently, the FDA sends teens into the same store several times. The 26 percent is a measure only of the share of the compliance checks that resulted in a tobacco purchase.
In all, the FDA has conducted its checks at 3,073 Colorado merchants in 128 cities and towns. Among the 21 Colorado cities where undercover teens have tried 50 or more tobacco buys, teens were most successful in purchasing tobacco in Durango, Boulder, Golden, Arvada and Lakewood. They were least successful in Loveland, Denver, Fort Collins, Thornton and Aurora. Colorado Springs fell between the two groups.
The undercover teens were able to buy tobacco in nearly one of every two tries in Durango. They were successful in only one of every 10 tries in Loveland.
The Liquor Enforcement Division of the Department of Revenue carries out separate state compliance checks. Division director David Reitz said it looks as if retailers are getting the message. The compliance rate as determined by state checks that ended in June 1999 was 84 percent, up from 70 percent the year before. States that fail to establish a minimum 80 percent compliance rate by tobacco retailers can lose federal matching-grant funds for alcohol and drug-abuse treatment programs.
Under federal law, retailers get a written warning for the first violation, but subsequent violations can lead to fines of $250 to $10,000. Under state law, minors can be fined $100 for purchasing or attempting to purchase tobacco products. Retailers are required to card anyone who appears to be younger than 27.